By CAROL VOGEL
Published: December 2, 2010
Adding Green Space to MoMA With Tropical Terrariums
The Museum of Modern Art lobby — that awkward space designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi — spans a city block, making it as much a thoroughfare as a museum entrance. People flood the place throughout the day, ducking in from the cold, avoiding street traffic or simply using it as a meeting spot.
For curators at the museum, the lobby is a challenge. Because the doors open and close all day long, the temperature fluctuations make it a difficult place to put art. The only works shown there have been photographs by Irving Penn; videos by the Dutch artist Aernout Mik; and a 21-foot-tall balloon with multiple eyes, a design by Tim Burton.
Just a few days ago, however, some visitors walking through the lobby were slowing down, taking in two new additions: 21st-century terrariums. One, “Slug,” is 15 feet long, a gentle biomorphic shape that hangs on the lobby’s west wall; nearby, the second, “Egg,” is a free-standing floor-to-ceiling domelike structure. Each is made of blown glass and silicone, and filled with myriad tropical plants, including begonias, creeping miniature figs and a smorgasbord of ferns with names like maidenhair, fluffy ruffles and Suzi Wong.“We are not keen on all kinds of modern art, but this is brilliant,” said Laura Casado, a visitor from Valladolid, Spain, who was on vacation with her husband, Javier. On Monday afternoon, while Mr. Casado was busy photographing the terrariums, Ms. Casado explained, “My husband especially loves things that grow.”These hybrids of art and urban-dweller’s garden make up the small exhibition “Nocturne of the Limax maximus,” running through Feb. 28. They come from the New York artist and landscape designer Paula Hayes, who has been blogging about the project on MoMA’s Web site, moma.org.“It’s people-friendly art — you don’t need a Ph.D. in art history to get it,” said Ann Temkin, chief curator of the museum’s department of painting and sculpture. “It’s also about crossing borders — animate, inanimate — a way to add life to the space in an oddly sensuous way.”Ms. Hayes said she had deliberately created shapes that were integral to the lobby’s architecture. “The forms just came into my head,” she added. The show’s title — “Nocturne of the Limax maximus,” or night music of the great slug (commonly called the leopard slug) — comes from a form that she happened upon. “When I started doing sketches, my son showed me a YouTube video of leopard slugs mating,” she said, explaining that her drawings reminded him of the shapes in the video. “I had no idea they were so beautiful. I always thought they were something to be walked around.”Since the lobby doesn’t offer enough light to nurture the plants, carefully concealed in each terrarium are full-spectrum lights programmed on timers to simulate 13 hours of daylight.As the months go by, many of the plants will begin to flower, Ms. Hayes said. And when the exhibition ends in February, then what? “The plants will come home to me,” she said. “I grew them in my studio for six months prior to the exhibition.” As for “Slug,” she said it was up for acquisition by MoMA, “so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
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